Tag Archives: USA

#40thcelebrations

It will come as no great surprise to many of you when I say that February 2017 has been all about the #40thcelebrations in our household. Last year, I marked the occasion of 30 years living side by side with T1D, so this year it only seemed fitting that I celebrated with equal clamour that next big milestone in my life: hitting the big 4-0. c5ao3diwmaatk4uI am a huge fan of celebrating birthdays in style and you will often find the birthday cards in our house hanging around for a good 2 or 3 weeks past the notable date itself. Unlike my husband, and possibly much to his disappointment, I don’t likeabsolutely hate…’m not so keen on surprises and would much prefer being involved in the planning, to a greater or lesser extent, of any significant occasion. The plans for celebrating my 40th this year were no different.

When I turned 30, there were 2 destinations I wanted to visit, Las Vegas and New York. We discussed at length where we would go and settled on Las Vegas, with the clear understanding that only New York would do when it came to turning 40. The last 12 months or so have been filled with booking, researching and planning the finer details of our perfect trip to this iconic city and since just before Christmas, the excitement has gradually been building. Thanks to my Mum, we were able to spend an entire week in the USA and even managed to tag on a couple of extra days at the beginning to be part of the judging panels for this year’s Free From Food Awards. Her generosity meant we could take full advantage of travelling without children and fitted the trip in before we hit the price hikes of February half-term.

c3p22qjweaihqonWe decided to travel with Virgin Atlantic, from whom we have had great customer service in the past and again were not disappointed, especially when they marked my birthday with a couple of complimentary glasses of bubbles and bars of chocolate on the flights. We also chose to book our hotel and city passes as part of a Virgin holidays package and settled on the Hotel Beacon for our stay. Located on the Upper West Side of NYC and within 5 minutes walking distance of Central Park, the Hotel Beacon was a fantastic choice and we loved everything about it. As well as being able to walk to Central Park, we were also able to walk the couple of blocks to the 72nd subway station and were surrounded by a great selection of cafes and restaurants to try. What we particularly liked was the fact that the rooms have fully equipped kitchenettes, which may have only had a limited use for our stay this time, but would be perfect for when travelling with anyone with food allergies who might want to prepare safe food themselves.

img_34951Our trip was understandably dominated by our sightseeing plans and we did pretty much everything we wanted with a few added extras thrown in for good measure along the way. I’d be hard-pushed to narrow down my favourite part as everything we did was gloriously marvellous in their own unique ways. Mike loved seeing the architecture of the city, from the splendour of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, to the stunning beauty of the interior of Grand Central Station and the sheer engineering magnitude of the Statue of Liberty. One of Mike’s favourite parts was, without doubt, our Sunday spent on Ellis Island, where he was able to track down the immigration paperwork for when his mother and her family moved from Jamaica to Canada by way of NYC in the late 1940s.
img_35731I loved our wander through Central Park, both in the blazing sunshine and then again in the snow as we made our way to the Frick Collection, a fabulous small museum containing some leading Old Master paintings and sculptures. Around every corner we stumbled across yet another masterpiece and I am so grateful to my colleague who recommended this as an ideal way to spend a couple of hours seeing these well-known pieces of art. Thanks to our open bus city tour, we also discovered, to my absolute delight, where we could see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends given to Christopher Robin Milne before they became the inspiration for that much-loved children’s classic, a visit that took up hardly any of our time and yet was a worthwhile stop for this literature fan. In stark contrast, we spent a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial, a hauntingly heart-breaking and harrowing museum to visit, which did an amazing job in walking the visitor through both the timeline as it unfurled on the day and the stories of great heroism and unbelievable tragedy.

Our week-long stay was a truly fantastic way to celebrate my 40th year and there is so much more that I’ll be sharing over the next few blog posts.

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Teal Pumpkin Project™ 2015

My first real experience of Halloween came during my time as a student at Ottawa University back in the 1990s, when my Canadian friends took pity on a poor uninitiated Brit and introduced me to what is truly an unmissable event on the North American calendar. Every shop has a vast array of costumes to choose from, porches are adorned with carved pumpkins galore, houses are bedecked in lights and decorations to rival those put up for Christmas and entire neighbourhoods take to the streets on the night itself, pillowcases in hand, to offer the traditional “..trick-or-treat..” to the eager participants. Likewise, G and M have fond memories of their own P1000386Canadian Halloween experiences with cousins and friends and their outfits are still hanging up in M’s costume wardrobe as a permanent memento. It was, understandably, a big part of Mike’s childhood, but is not an occasion I ever remember marking in my own upbringing and at home, here in the UK, I can’t quite reconcile myself to the idea of sending my children out in their ghoulish fancy dress to knock on random houses in our village to ask for treats, when, for the other 364 days of the year, I’m drilling into them the mantra to not accept sweets from strangers. Whilst we might not be avid Halloween fans in our household, I know it is a custom that is becoming more and more popular around the country.

Of course, for children with food allergies, trick-or-treating takes on a whole new meaning as frighteningly they risk their health by collecting sweets that could unwittingly trigger an allergic reaction. This year in particular, I am glad that my children have no expectations of going out on Halloween as with M’s slim pickings when it comes to safe foods, I would have to take away every single sweet he was given and swap it for a M-friendly alternative; and would have to do exactly the same to protect G from her allergies too. However, thanks to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in the USA, a relatively new campaign helps raise awareness of food allergies during Halloween season, seeks to ease parental concerns, promotes inclusion of all trick-or-treaters and asks households to pledge to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project™.teal-pumpkin-project-allergy-friendly-Halloween

This national campaign was launched in 2014 and saw households from 50 states and 7 countries get involved in the Teal Pumpkin Project™ and FARE is hoping that this year an even bigger movement will happen with a target 100,000 households pledging to take part. The idea is simple and incredibly effective: if a household is prepared to provide non-food treats for any trick-or-treaters likely to call, they are asked to paint a pumpkin teal and place it in pride of place in front of their home. Their website also has a free printable sign to indicate there are non-food treats available, which can be downloaded here. Even though this initiative was originally launched in the USA, the project has gone viral through the various social media platforms and allergy parents around the globe are making the pledge for this October 31st.

So, what can you do to be involved? It’s easy, it really, really is and if you’re planning to actively celebrate Halloween this year, I would ask you to please consider taking part:PTPP-2

  • Don’t just buy sweets to hand out from your door, but take a little time to consider those who can’t enjoy these treats and buy some non-food treats for them too. The treats don’t have to be expensive: trading cards, stickers, glowsticks or stationery will all be gratefully received, so visit your local pound or dollar store and see what your money can buy
  • Once you have your non-food treats, paint your pumpkin teal and put it out where it can be seen. There will be many who won’t understand the significance, but trust me when I say almost every allergy parent will know and will appreciate your effort
  • Visit the FARE website and print out one of their posters or signs to put up in your windows to make it clear you’re taking part in this year’s Teal Pumpkin Project™
  • Take the pledge via the FARE website and encourage your family and friends to do the same

And remember, your involvement could make a big difference and ultimately save the life of a child like M. 

Raglan Road Irish Pub

1458655_800725413290492_2694048479460387307_nNaturally having asked G and M to name their favourite meal, I got to thinking about what my own number 1 would be.  I loved nearly every meal we ate at Disney and would have been more than happy to return to any of the restaurants to eat again.  The one that stands out in my mind however, has to be our fabulous dinner at the Raglan Road Irish Pub at Downtown Disney.  I had read great reviews about the pub before booking and I had contacted them back in February to find out whether they could cope with M’s food allergies.  Their response was to send me a complete allergy listing for all their menu options, so I had a good idea of what M and G would be able to order.  Unfortunately, our evening started on a slightly sticky note when I discovered that the allergy-friendly calamari that both G and M had been looking forward to trying was no longer available.

G's fish & chips

G’s fish & chips

M’s face dropped and he declared a disinterest in ordering anything off the menu, whilst G chose a traditional favourite of fish and chips.  Our server, Sheldon, was fantastic however and after a quick word with the chef, came back to M with an offer of shrimp cooked in their gluten-free batter accompanied by green beans, carrots and parsnips.  What impressed me most here was the offer of a side dish that wasn’t obvious from the menu, but one that our server knew and enjoyed himself and that he had checked could be made safe for M.  With that offer, M cheered up instantly and he and G disappeared off to watch the Irish dancing, whilst we soaked up the atmosphere accompanied with a pint of Magners cider.

M's shrimp & roasted veg

M’s shrimp & roasted veg

The food, when it came, was delicious and M not only made short work of his dinner, but set to helping G polish off the remains of her large portion of fish.  Main course done and we turned to the decision of pudding.  The options here were a little more limited that we’ve found elsewhere, but it was nice to have the “healthier” choice of fresh fruit drizzled with honey.  G is not a fan of fresh berries or melon, so whilst M was in heaven enjoying a bowl of mixed berries, that was the epitome of G’s idea of hell.  Once again Sheldon stepped to the fore and a bowl of apple pieces drizzled with honey appeared for her, which frankly made her day.

This is definitely a restaurant Mike and I would have loved to go back to and we were both disappointed that we just couldn’t find the time to squeeze a return trip into our busy schedule.  A great choice and yet again we experienced the wonderful service we have come to associate with Disneyworld.

G & M’s Top Disney Picks

Having written my last blog post, I asked G and M to name their favourite meal whilst we were at Disneyworld.  It came as no surprise to me that neither could narrow it down to just one meal, so instead they each listed their top 3 (which were exactly the same) and I thought I’d share them with you.

Afternoon tea at Citricio’s Lounge – Grand Floridian

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Our afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian was a surprise for my Mum, who is celebrating a special birthday in September and was one that the children and I had successfully kept from her for months.  We arrived at the hotel via monorail from the Magic Kingdom and it was only when I suggested we got off there that my Mum had any idea of what was going on.  The children both opted to have the “Mrs Potts Tea” and were treated to 3 tapioca rolls filled with turkey, ham and strawberry jam, followed by a small plate filled with a variety of allergy-friendly cookies and fresh fruit.  M chose to have apple juice to drink, whilst G had water and both were served from their own individual tea-pots, which they loved and took the chance to pour more to drink at every opportunity.  We were well looked after by Chris, the on-duty manager and David, our waiter and the children both rated this as their most favourite meal of all.

20140818_143459Mickey waffles – Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), The Mara (Jambo House) and Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Resort)

We didn’t order these for our first breakfast at Disney, but instead waited until the character breakfast we’d booked at Tusker House.  Chef Renee confirmed that they were gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free and only contained a small amount of potato starch.  The kids were over-the-moon to be given the opportunity to eat such a treat and I don’t think I’ve ever seen M consume so much for his breakfast.  They ate these marvellous Mickey waffles with lashings of maple syrup and strips of crispy bacon.  Elsewhere they were also given fresh berries to enjoy alongside them.  I know G liked them, despite her assertions the other day that perhaps they weren’t in her top 3: after all, repeated requests for seconds and 1 breakfast of 5 Mickey waffles would seem to disapprove her statement!

Hoop-dee-doo Musical Revue – Wilderness Lodge

hoop dee doThis was my wildcard dinner reservation, but one I’m really glad I booked as both children had a brilliant time and loved every minute of the meal.  This is a dinner show, where the audience is entertained by the antics and songs of the 6 performers both on stage and with some audience participation, whilst enjoying an all-you-can eat dinner of fried chicken, BBQ ribs, green salad, baked beans, mashed potato, corn and cornbread.  M and G were treated to plates overflowing with food, including grilled chicken, ribs, corn, tapioca rolls and a baked potato for G.  Instead of the strawberry shortcake offered for dessert, they were given coconut ice-cream, strawberries and allergy-friendly chocolate cookies.  Not only was the food delicious, but they clapped and cheered along with the show and took the opportunity to play the washboard and dance around the dining room.

 

The Triumph of Disneyworld

jamboWe were off to a great start, thanks to the fantastic Virgin team and the successful delivery of my on-line grocery order thanks to gardengrocer.com.  Not willing to leave anything to chance that first day, I had booked dinner at our hotel for the evening of arrival rather than facing the challenge of finding somewhere to feed M and G safely whilst struggling with jet-lag.  I had left it a little late to book and we ended up with a table in the delightful Jiko restaurant at  Jambo House, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Not my first choice for our first evening as  I was afraid we wouldn’t enjoy the delicious menu as much as we could when we were slightly less travel-weary, but needs must and I looked forward to seeing what exactly was on offer for M.

No words are going to be able to adequately express just how amazing that first meal at    Disney was.  I am so used to restaurants struggling to come up with a complete meal for M when we eat out in the UK, that I fully expected to encounter similar problems at WDW.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Our server knew about M and G’s allergies and quickly     requested that Chef Tom came to the table to discuss what he could prepare for their       dinner.  SAM_1906He was happy to cook any meat or fish that they wanted and suggested what sides could be safely offered too.  Despite not having sweet potatoes in the restaurant, he went to the other hotel restaurant to find out if their sweet potato fries would be safe for M or not and, when the answer was sadly no, prepared a beautiful dish of plain rice, seared scallops, carrots and green beans for him instead.  Both children enjoyed their meals and fell asleep at the table as soon as they had finished their main courses, before dessert became an issue.

excellenceWhat’s even better is that this experience was not a one-off.  As promised, every booking at Disney was annotated with their food allergies and as soon as we were seated, the serving staff were made aware that we would need to speak to the chef.  During our 2 weeks, G and M enjoyed breakfasts, lunches and dinners unlike any they’ve eaten out in the UK.  We tried a variety of restaurants across the 4 Disney parks and the numerous resort hotels and had equal success everywhere.  Even the counter service restaurants had allergy information to hand and managers who knew exactly what would be safe for both children to eat.  There was no skimping on meals and they were able to enjoy puddings almost everywhere too.

My thanks go to the fantastic staff at WDW – Chefs Tom, Renee, Ricardo, David, Dave, Duane & Brian and serving staff Jamal, Sheldon, Chris and David as well as the others whose names I forgot to note down

the brilliant restaurants – Jiko (Jambo House), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), Coral Reef (Epcot), Cosmic Rays (Magic Kingdom), Mexico (Epcot), Fulton Crabhouse (Downtown Disney), Mara (Jambo House), Raglan Road Irish Pub (Downtown Disney), Citricios (Grand Floridian), Hoop-dee-doo (Wilderness Lodge), Backlot Express (Hollywood Studios), Fairfax Fare (Hollywood Studios), Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Hotel), Sunshine Seasons (Epcot) and the many others we never got round to trying

and to Disney itself for the huge efforts it has made to welcome those with food allergies to its resorts and to make their stay as special as it can possibly be.

It truly is a magical place and one we will definitely be planning to revisit in the future.

Virgin Fantastic!

The time had finally come and the night before we flew, I sent tweets to both Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic to issue my challenge to meet my holiday expectations and both accepted it immediately.

First up was Virgin Holidays and their Gatwick V-room.  As I wrote back at the end of July, I had been promised a supply of rice milk for M as well as some suitable options for his breakfast and I was keen to see just what would be waiting when we got there.  Upon arrival, we met the fantastic Dominic, who knew all about M and our request for rice milk.  As soon as we found a table for breakfast, he brought the milk over and then spent some time discussing all of M’s allergies and what food they had on offer that might suit him.  I was impressed to learn that they stock B-free bread and although it contains egg and therefore isn’t suitable for M,  G snapped up the opportunity to have 2 slices of toast as part of her breakfast.  Both children also had some cereal with the rice milk and there was fresh fruit and smoothies available for them too.  I was hugely impressed with Dominic’s attitude throughout our time there and at no point felt that we were an inconvenience to any of the V-room staff.  Even better, we were able to take the remainder of the carton onto our flight with us, which meant we could go on our holiday knowing M had a limited supply of safe milk to hand.

It was then on to our plane and it all started well.  The check-in staff had confirmed that the special request meal had been noted on our booking and the cabin crew provided us with a ready supply of ice to keep the cool-bag of medicines cold for the 9+hours we’d be in the air.  I was equally impressed that they offered to place our ice packs in their on-board freezer to ensure that we could keep everything cool until we reached our final destination in Orlando.  Eventually it was time for the meal and here we hit our first rocky point. oops I had requested a gluten-free meal for G which quickly turned up, but there was no sign of the requested meal for M.  The cabin crew searched high and low for it, but couldn’t find it and we were left with the option of whatever fruit they could get their hands on plus the snacks I had packed to keep M’s appetite filled.  Just as I was mentally drafting a letter of complaint to Virgin Atlantic expressing my disappointment at being let down in such dramatic fashion, our air stewardess hurried up with a tray of food and an apology on her lips.  The confusion had arisen for 2 reasons: 1) the meal had been prepared with G’s name on it rather than M’s and 2) it had been assigned to the seat number of another passenger who had also requested a special meal and the names had not been cross-checked to make sure everything was right.

Disaster was averted, but only just.  The meal prepared was exactly what I had asked for – plain grilled chicken with rice and vegetables and a fantastic fresh fruit salad for dessert – and M tucked in with gusto.  We were lucky that the other passenger had not started eating the meal before the mistake was identified and I’m glad to say that our return flight was not plagued with the same problem, although it still appeared that G had 2 meals (both the gluten-free and special request meals being assigned to her name), whilst M had none!  I hadn’t considered that a smaller snack would also be provided on the flight and was delighted Virgin Atlantic had thought further ahead than I had and provided another delicous fresh fruit platter for M to enjoy safely.

Gold stars all round!

Gold stars all round!

I have been really impressed with how well both branches of the Virgin family accommodated our needs and requests on the flights and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone going on holiday with special medical needs.  We didn’t run into any unexpected problems with our travel arrangements and I will definitely consider travelling with them again.